Alcohol Abuse’ Treatment Among the Elderly

Introduction

Alcohol abuse among the elderly is an issue that has raised concern among medical practitioners and society in general. According to Ham (2007), abuse of alcohol by aging individuals may pose serious health problems to the victims because of the reduced ability of the body system to manage the toxic substance in the alcohol. It is important to note that the abuse of alcohol by the elderly also affects people around them both socially and economically. When such an individual becomes physically or verbally abusive to the members of society, the effect of alcohol abuse will be felt by many people. Sometimes members of the family are forced to clean the soiled clothes of those who abuse alcohol, something that many consider demeaning. When their health deteriorates because of alcohol abuse, members of the family will be forced to spend money to treat them. For this reason, it is important to treat this problem before it can bring a series of negative effects on the victims or their families. In this research, the focus will be to identify some of the best ways through which alcohol abuse among the elderly can be treated.

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Background of the Study

The importance of this study is directly connected to the potential negative effects of alcohol on the long term health and well being of the elderly. The first issue that should be taken into consideration is the impact of alcohol on medication and the resulting adverse consequences it may have. The study of Sinclair, Chick, Sørensen, Kiefer, Batel & Gual (2014) which examined the result of alcohol consumption and medication on numerous cases within hospitals showed that alcohol can either reduce the effectiveness of medication or bring about unintentional side effects. For instance, drugs related to epilepsy and diabetes have been noted as losing their effectiveness when consumed at the same time as alcohol. The result is that the conditions that these drugs were supposed to address get worse over time due to the lack of effectiveness of the medication that they are taking. This makes an elderly patient worse off as compared to when they were taking the medication without alcohol.

Other issues about medication and alcohol consumption come in the form of the synergistic effects that alcohol tends to have with sedatives such as Valim or even various types of antidepressant drugs such as Prozac. Consuming alcohol and the aforementioned medications can cause issues such as an erratic heartbeat, brain dysfunctions, or even death in cases where the alcohol and medications interact in such a way that it causes the person to develop a stroke or stop breathing altogether. Another factor to take into consideration is the fact that due to the advanced age of the elderly, their capacity to process alcohol takes far longer as compared to their younger counterparts. As a result, even if they believe that the alcohol they drank has been “washed away” so to speak from their system, it continues to remain for a significant portion of time (i.e. 12 hours or 1 day longer depending on the age of the individual in question). The result is that the period in which it unsafe to take medication increases with the elderly being unaware that they are mixing their medication with significant quantities of alcohol in their system.

Forlani, Morri, Belvederi, Bernabei, Moretti, Attili, Biondini, De Ronchi & Atti (2014) explained that situations such as these are all too common and can be attributed as one of the leading causes behind medication-related deaths for the elderly. Aside from the negative impact of alcohol on medication, there are also the long term implications of excessive alcohol consumption and its effect on the health of an elderly individual. First and foremost, it is important to note that excessive drinking can cause sclerosis of the liver (i.e. fatty liver syndrome) to the extent that this can impact the capacity of the organ to properly filter out waste materials in the body. Aside from this, alcohol dependence can result in impaired cognitive functions which, when combined with the deteriorating mental faculties inherent in all elderly individuals, exacerbates the potential development of psychological issues such as depression, excessive anger, or even suicidal tendencies. Lastly, it was noted by Geels, Vink, Van Beek, Bartels, Willemsen & Boomsma (2013) that excessive alcohol consumption can also contribute towards an individual gaining weight resulting in the potential for obesity. While this is a serious issue for a young individual, it is incredibly deadly for an elderly individual given their body’s declining capacity to work off the excess weight through exercise. After considering all these factors, it can be seen that sufficient efforts must be undertaken to address the issue of alcohol abuse among the elderly.

The rationale for the research

Alcohol abuse among the elderly has affected society from various perspectives. When an old person consumes a high amount of alcohol, Marshall (2000) says that the body may not be able to eliminate the alcohol content from the body within the required period. The scholar explains that this is so because most of the activities in the body system have been slowed down. It means that the alcohol content will take a longer time in the body, especially in sensitive organs such as the liver and kidneys, than is usually the case among active adults. These organs will be affected by alcoholic substances, which may lead to a series of medical complications such as liver cirrhosis. Health problems that the elderly people develop will not only affect them, but also their families, and the government. Their families will have to pay for their treatment to save their lives. The government will be forced to spend more on the medical sector to meet the increasing demand for healthcare. Socially, alcohol abuse may have a series of negative effects on the victim, society, and members of their families. When one takes alcohol and starts misbehaving, his dignity and that of his entire family will be lost. In some cases, they may become aggressive, and this may affect other innocent members of society. For this reason, it is necessary to address this problem to have a society that is free from such consequences both to the victims and people around them.

Scholars have conducted massive research in this field to determine the best ways that can be used to address the problem to protect the elderly and the people around them. According to Yoshida (2006), this field has been under active research for over two decades. However, it was evident that there are some ambiguities in some of these pieces of research. For instance, it is not yet clear who the real victims of alcohol abuse among the elderly are within society. The approach to be taken is also not yet clear because different experts are emphasizing different approaches. Some of the recent researches have been proposing a combination of both counseling and medical treatment as the best ways of dealing with this problem. It is necessary to come up with an approach that would be universally acceptable to the experts, and this is the aim of the research. If this is achieved, then many people stand to benefit from the solution that shall have been developed. The elderly alcohol abusers will be protected from the socio-economic and health problems they have been facing after taking alcohol. Their families will be liberated from the problems they have to face after their loved ones have taken alcohol. Society will be liberated from the problems caused by the elderly alcohol abusers. The government expenditure on health will also be reduced.

The Aim of the review

This research will specifically focus on finding the best treatment for the problem of alcohol abuse among the elderly. The research will not involve a collection of primary sources of data from the individuals who have been victims of the problem, or the experts who have been trying to address the problem from various perspectives. The research will only rely on secondary sources of data to find a solution to this problem. The researcher believes that by the end of this research, there will be clear information on how to deal with the problem. The following are some of the specific objectives that the researcher seeks to achieve from this review.

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  • To identify any conflicting information in the current literature on how to deal with the problem of alcohol abuse among the elderly.
  • To determine why these conflicts in the existing literature are arising when experts try to explain how to address the problem.
  • To identify any misconception that any of the previous researchers could have had in their study that could have led to differing opinions.
  • To identify the level of validity in different pieces of research that will be used to determine the reliability of their conclusions.
  • To come up with a comprehensive plan, based on the reviewed literature, on how to address the problem of alcohol abuse among the elderly.
  • To identify some of the specific roles that can be done by the society and family members of the elderly to help address the problem of alcohol abuse among the elderly.
  • Propose a clear approach that should be taken by future researchers who will be interested in advancing knowledge in this field.

Upon completion of this research, it is expected that all of the above objectives shall be achieved. This will not only help in addressing the current problem but also play a pivotal role in guiding future scholars. It will play an important role in guiding the policymakers and families caring for elderly alcoholics.

Research questions and hypothesis

Conducting research is a complex process that involves collecting relevant data, analyzing it, and drawing conclusions from the analysis. According to Fink (2010), when a researcher gets into the field to collect data, he or she will be encountered by massive sources of information, most of which may not be focusing on the research topic. Sometimes researchers would be swayed from the topic to other irrelevant information that may affect the quality of data collected from the field. Research questions play an important role in narrowly defining the data that should be collected from the field. This helps in avoiding the possibility that the researcher may get into the process of collecting irrelevant data from the field. In this study, the researcher developed the following research questions to help in guiding the process of data collection.

To what extent are the elderly affected socially and economically from their abuse of alcohol?

This question was formulated to help in determining the social and economic harm that the elderly expose themselves when they engage in alcohol abuse. This question was developed based on the findings of Lowinson 2005, p. 56) which revealed that many adults continue to lose their lives because of the abuse of alcohol. The following data was taken from this source.

Fatality Rates Related to Alcohol Abuse among the Elderly in U.S. 1979-1993.
Figure 1: Fatality Rates Related to Alcohol Abuse among the Elderly in U.S. 1979-1993.

This information that was taken from CDC data clearly shows a consistent rise in the rate of fatalities among the elderly in cases that is related to alcohol abuse. However, it is important to note that this data shows the trend from 1979 to 1993. This question will help in collecting more recent data. It will help in determining the current trend to determine if the relevant stakeholders are making positive progress to reverse this negative trend.

What are some of the health consequences of alcohol abuse among the elderly?

The literature reviewed on this topic shows that alcohol abuse among the elderly has some serious negative impacts, especially if it is not properly controlled. Some of the researchers noted that excessive alcohol abuse may lead to some serious health consequences, the top of which is liver cirrhosis. It is important to confirm these claims by analyzing other scholarly articles and books to get clear information on this topic.

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How is society affected by the abuse of alcohol among the elderly?

This question focused on the effect that alcohol abuse among the elderly has on society. According to Goldberg (2010, p. 45), the elderly rely on able-bodied adults for various needs. Some of them are always too weak to undertake some chores on their own. When they engage in alcohol abuse, managing them becomes even more stressful for their family members. This scholar notes that some of them would even become violent after taking alcohol. The table below shows the relationship between violence, drug, and alcohol abuse among the elderly.

Relationship between violence, drug and alcohol abuse.
Figure 2: Relationship between violence, drug and alcohol abuse.

Lowinson (2005, p. 121) noted that men tend to be more violent after taking alcohol than women, a claim that is supported by the data in the figure above. In this study, the researcher will try to confirm if this is still the case, and what can be done to address the issue.

What are some of the conflicting information about the approach to be taken when addressing the problem of alcohol abuse among the elderly?

This question is very important because it seeks to identify conflicting information about the approach to be taken when addressing alcohol abuse among the elderly. The internet is full of information on how this issue can be addressed, and some of them are very misleading. Through this question, the researcher will be able to identify some of the common misconceptions about the issue and come up with a valid approach that can be taken to discredit some of the leading information that is available through various sources. Society will be informed about these misconceptions, and the need to ignore them to avoid negative consequences that they may have on one’s life.

What is the best approach to addressing the problem of alcohol abuse among the elderly?

This question is closely related to the above question. After identifying the misconceptions and conflicting information that is available on how to address alcohol abuse among the elderly, the next important stage would be to identify the valid approach that can be used. This will involve a detailed justification of why the approach suggested is considered superior to other existing strategies, and the stakeholders who should be involved in the process.

What are some of the specific roles that should be played by different stakeholders when addressing the problem of alcohol abuse among the elderly?

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This last question is related to the question above. In this section, the researcher will investigate the role of various stakeholders in addressing the problem of alcohol abuse among the elderly. It will involve identifying these stakeholders, and explaining their role in the fight against this social problem.

Each of the questions above is expected to direct the researcher into looking for specific information from the sources available to obtain specific answers to them. Any information that does not directly respond to the above questions will be considered irrelevant. Based on the above questions, the researcher developed some research hypotheses below.

  • H1. The elderly alcoholics are the worst affected group by the effects of alcohol abuse.
  • H2. Society is socially and economically affected by the problem of alcohol abuse by the elderly.
  • H3. The best way of addressing the problem of alcohol abuse by the elderly should involve both medical and psychological strategies.
  • H4. Every member of society has an important role to play when addressing the problem of alcohol abuse among the elderly.

The researcher will use secondary sources of data to determine if the above hypotheses are true or not.

Review of Strategy

According to Basit (2010), conducting a review requires a proper strategy that would help to identify the right sources of data, determining the validity of the sources, and compiling a comprehensive and reliable report based on these sources. Given that this research will purely involve data collected from secondary sources, it was important to develop a proper strategy that would help to identify the relevant sources of data. The search strategy will be defined from two approaches. The first approach will involve the identification of published sources of information on the topic that can be found in their print form. Using the search term, ‘Treatment of alcohol abuse among the elderly’, the researcher will visit the school library to search for books, which are relevant to this topic. Some terms may be included or excluded based on the circumstances during the search. For instance, the name of a city may be included to identify some of the cities that are worst affected. The term abuse may also be excluded or substituted by another term during the search. Peer-reviewed journals will equally form an important source of information for this topic, and they too will be taken from the school library. The researcher will also use newspapers from some of the reputable media houses in the country to help back up the information that will be available from other print sources.

The researcher will heavily rely on online sources of information when collecting data. Using online sources of information will be the second approach to collecting information for this research. Some of the relevant books for this research may be readily available through online sources. Most of the journal articles that will be used in this study are expected to come from online databases. Some of the databases that are reliable enough to provide relevant journal articles for this research include JSTOR, Oxford Journals, NCBI Databases, CINAHL, AMED, EMBASE, MEDLINE, and EBSCO. These are reputable databases that have reliable peer-reviewed journals that may offer the researcher a good source of information for the research. The researcher has also developed a strategy for collecting grey literature. This will be collected from the school or public libraries by directly engaging the librarians and asking for their help in identifying such materials. The researcher will also make direct requests to some of the scholars who authored such materials within this institution.

It is very important to assess the quality of the literature before including it as part of the sources in the research. The validity of the literature will be determined using a validated checklist by analyzing the method used in concluding, the sample size used, the authority that the authors command in that field, and what other scholars say about the particular literature. The plan that will be used in the synthesis of the information from the identified studies will be defined by the objectives above. The plan must lead the researcher into achieving the above objectives. It means that it will start by identifying the relevant literature using the search term identified above, determining the validity of the literature, and then conducting a comprehensive review of the selected literature. Of interest will be to identify the strategies proposed by each, any conflicts, the reasons for the conflicts, and the way forward in addressing the issue. Although a meta-analysis may be necessary at this stage, it would not be included in this research.

Analysis and Synthesis of Data

The research will only rely on the data collected from books, journal articles, newspapers, and other relevant online sources. The analysis of this data will involve a careful analysis of the findings of these authors, identification of any conflict of the information they present, the validity of their research process, and the ethical procedures they followed. When synthesizing the information from these sources, this research will be keen to base the conclusion on the study’s validity and reliability.

Resources required

According to Fink (2010), it is always necessary to define all resources that may be required before starting the implementation process to determine the feasibility of the project. It is always common for such projects to fail along the way because the project’s needs were not clearly defined. The research will need some specific resources that will need to be used to achieve the desired result from this project. The first resource that will be needed for this research will be time to conduct the research. Some stages will be involved in collecting data, and at each stage, it will be important to define the time needed to complete all the activities.

This is defined in the Gantt chart below. Books, journal articles, and magazines found in the university library will be among other resources that will be needed in this study. Stable internet connectivity and a personal computer, most preferably a laptop, will be necessary for data collection and compilation of the report. The researcher may also need an amount of money not exceeding £450 to subscribe to some of the databases mentioned above and to complete some of the tasks that may need some form of payment. This will include printing and binding services once the document has been finalized. The researcher will also obtain the necessary permission from relevant authorities at different stages of this research. This is not only meant to maintain ethics in the research, but also to ensure that the researcher gets relevant guidance from the authorities whenever it may be necessary.

Work plan

It is important to understand the work plan that will be used in this research process to help in defining its feasibility. The research will involve a series of activities that will be conducted systematically. The Gantt chart below shows the specific activities that will be carried out in this research process. Each of the planned activities will have a specific timeframe within which it has to be accomplished. This will help in determining the total time that will be needed to complete the project.

Timeline
Activities June (1-30) July (1-15) July (15-Aug 31) Sept (1-15) Sept (16- Oct 31) Nov (1- Dec 7)
Proposal development X
Approval of Proposal X
Collecting literature X
Review of literature X X
Compiling the report X
Typing the report X X

The first activity will be proposal development. The researcher will develop a research proposal that will define all the activities that will take place in this research process. Given the nature of this research, the development of the proposal may take one month because it will also involve identifying all the resources that will be used in the research. Approval of the proposal is expected to be completed within 14 days, after which the researcher will start collecting the needed data. The next activity will be reviewing the literature which will then be followed by compiling the report. Typing and proof-reading of the report will take approximately 30 days and a week long.

Ethics

According to Dening (2013, p. 54), it is important to maintain ethics when conducting a piece of research. The research will be used by various people for different purposes. This informative report will be valuable to the policymakers in understanding some of the pertinent issues concerning alcohol abuse among the elderly. The report will identify the stakeholders and their roles in addressing alcohol abuse among the elderly. For this reason, the information presented in this document must be credible. It must be founded on factual information from authoritative sources. This will ensure that the information does not mislead people who may rely on it to take various actions. It means that the researcher will need to maintain ethics at every stage of this research. This section will critically evaluate how this research upheld ethics in various stages.

One way of maintaining ethics will be to avoid bias when collecting information. According to Goldberg (2010, p. 34), some scholars always ignore literature that seems to go contrary to their values. This is unethical behavior because it ignores the importance of such contrary opinions. In this study, the researcher was keen to analyze conflicting views to have a holistic view of this issue. This way, it was possible to explain where the scholars with conflicting views went wrong in coming up with their conclusion. This also helps in addressing some of the controversies that may confuse policymakers and other stakeholders.

According to Dening (2013, p. 78), it is always ethical to identify some of the weaknesses of research to help the users of the report to understand the extent to which they can apply to the document. There are cases where the consumers of such information require a high level of accuracy because of the consequences associated with their decision. They need to know the level of accuracy of a report, and the sources of data that led to the conclusion made in the report. In this study, most of the data will be collected from relevant literature and other secondary sources found online. For this reason, the researcher identifies the main weakness of this report to be the fear that some information in the report may not reflect the exact events happening today. However, the researcher tried to address this problem by collecting data from current newspapers and journal articles to capture the most recent information available in online sources.

Understanding the Origin of the Problem

When examining the case of alcohol abuse among the elderly, it is important to determine the origin of the problem to devise an appropriate solution. It is based on this that the work of Barrick & Connors (2002) is essential since it delves into the attitudes that lead to alcohol abuse among the elderly and how it initially comes about. Barrick & Connors explains that one of the first reasons behind alcohol abuse in the demographic being examined in this paper is connected to the concept of alcohol acting as a coping mechanism. Senior citizens, by their advanced ages, are often subject to a variety of stressful situations that people from younger demographics are not impacted by (at least until they reach the same age) (Barrick & Connors 2002). These stressors can be categorized under the following:

  1. Feelings of Loneliness – people of advanced ages are often not included in the same social activities that they once were a part of when they were younger. This is in part due to health concerns, the inability to be as physically active as well as current social predilections regarding interactions with the elderly (Millard & McAuley 2008). Senior citizens often feel left out and, as a result, they turn towards alcohol as a means of coping with the loneliness that they feel. This is often one of the most common reasons behind alcohol abuse among the elderly since, in one form or another; most elderly individuals encounter such a situation (Millard & McAuley 2008).
  2. Death of a Spouse – another of the reasons behind alcohol abuse can be connected to the subsequent death of a spouse. This is another common reason behind the use of alcohol as a coping mechanism since spouses of advanced ages have often developed a very deep emotional connection with one another (Livingston & King 1993). Experiencing the death of their significant other, especially in cases where it is drawn out due to a debilitating illness, can often result in a considerable level of emotional turmoil which can drive an elderly individual to use alcohol as a means to “dull the pain” so to speak. It should be noted though that such behavior is understandable to a certain extent since coping with the death of a loved one, especially one that has been with you for a prolonged period, is a harrowing experience, however, the problem with utilizing alcohol as a means of coping with death is that it becomes habit-forming over time (Livingston & King 1993).
  3. Fear and Anxiety – aside from loneliness and the death of a spouse, another of the issues that cause elderly individuals to turn to alcohol as a coping mechanism are feelings of fear and anxiety. Simply put, the elderly are often subject to a variety of treatments, medications, and life-sustaining procedures that places a considerable level of stress on their mind. This is due to the fear of their impending death as well as the anxiety that develops as a direct result of such thoughts. The result is that they turn towards the use of alcohol as a means of “deadening” the fear and apprehension that they are dealing with.

Aside from the use of alcohol as a coping mechanism, other factors that cause the elderly to turn towards alcohol abuse consist of the following:

  • Long term habits – while not necessarily applicable to all elderly individuals, some have been prolific drinkers for decades. These ingrained habits result in alcohol abuse later on in life as they succumb to alcoholism. The inherent problem when it comes to dealing with alcohol as a lifelong habit is that drinking has become such an ingrained aspect of their lives that treatment for alcohol abuse among such individuals is often incredibly difficult given the decades in which their system has grown dependent on alcohol. It should also be noted that despite various means of treatment, ranging from interventions, support groups, psychological counseling, etc. the success rate has been relatively low for elderly individuals that have such an ingrained habit. One of the reasons behind this can be seen in the work of Livingston & King which explained that while standard methods of alcohol intervention can have a modicum level of success on younger individuals, elderly alcohol abusers have a sense of “finality” in that they believe that since they are going to die anyway then it would be fine to imbibe alcohol in the manner in which they choose since they have already lived a long and fulfilling life. Of course, the inherent problem with this way of thinking is that it causes havoc on their health and can react negatively with the various prescription drugs that they already take resulting in them dying several years or even a decade earlier than they should due to kidney problems and damage to their liver.
  • Admitting that they have a problem – through the work of Blondell (1999), it was seen that the elderly are less likely to seek professional help early on which makes the problems associated with alcohol abuse even worse. Blondel explains that the social stigma associated with alcohol abuse is just as prevalent among elderly communities as it is in younger ones. As a result, people are often reluctant to admit that they have a problem and seek professional help. It should also be noted that Cummings, Bride & Rawlins-Shaw (2006) discovered that the elderly develop their own biases regarding their “problem” which is similar to that of many alcoholics. This bias effectively creates the idea that their problem “is not so bad” and that it is relatively minor as compared to the assortment of issues that they have to deal with (i.e. the death of a friend, the expense of medications, their impending death, etc.) (Alcohol abuse hidden among elderly population 2001).

When taking all the factors that have been mentioned into consideration, it can be seen that there are a plethora of reasons that can cause an elderly individual to develop an alcohol abuse problem. As such, it is only by addressing the root causes in the following section that they can truly be resolved in the long term.

Addressing the Issue

After going over everything that has been stated so far, the following strategies have been devised to address the issue of alcohol abuse among the elderly. Do note that in no way does this encompass all possible methods of addressing the problem, rather, it focuses on those most pertinent in resolving the problem based on origins that have been stated in this paper.

How to address Alcohol as a Coping Mechanism

The inherent issue with alcohol as a coping mechanism is that it does not address the underlying psychological turmoil that comes about through feelings of loneliness, the death of a spouse, or the fear and anxiety that the elderly feel at times. From a certain perspective, alcohol can be compared to placing a band-aid over a deep puncture wound. On the surface everything may seem fine; however, it does not address the underlying problem and in effect makes it worse over time. It is based on this perspective that Caputo, Vignoli, Leggio, Addolorato, Zoli & Bernardi (2012) state that psychological counseling in the form of one on one therapy, group therapy or simply having an outlet for the problems an elderly person faces daily can do wonders in resolving the need for alcohol to cope with the problems they encounter. Psychological counseling, as explained by Krach (1998), involves addressing the underlying problem by bringing it to the surface. All too often people bury their problems and state that they can take care of them alone. The problem with such a strategy is that this actually causes their inner turmoil to increase and often brings about a state of depression. To address such an issue, it is advisable to transition an elderly subject into a state where they are willing to talk about their problems and from there help them to realize that alcohol is not the best method that they can use to cope with the problems that they feel they are going through.

This can be achieved by placing the individual in question into a comfortable setting where it is emphasized that sharing their life, their problems, and their fears will not be met with ridicule or contempt. Such a strategy can often be done through the use of support groups in elderly communities or the placement of an in-house therapist within a nursing home to talk to the patients through a schedule of meetings (McInnes & Powell 1994). What is important, as indicated by Saunders, Copeland, Dewey, Davidson, McWilliam, Sharma, Sullivan & Voruganti (1989), is that a sense of normalcy and regularity is implemented into their daily schedule through these counseling sessions. Trevisan (2014) delves deeper into this by explaining that “going through the motions” so to speak of having a scheduled existence that also has the benefit of addressing their underlying fear, anxiety, and depression would do wonders in terms of removing the root causes of their alcohol abuse problems.

Simply put, Trevisan states that the addition of emotional turmoil via the root causes of alcohol abuse creates an unscheduled existence that enticed further disruptive behavior (i.e. depression) which results in even more alcohol abuse. It is only when people are properly “grounded” so to speak that they can get their emotional and psychological state to the extent that they no longer need to depend on alcohol as a means of coping with their problems. This particular approach is effective in addressing the other problem with alcohol abuse wherein the elderly do not want to admit that they have a problem when it comes to their alcohol consumption (Onen, Onen, Mangeon, Abidi, Courpron & Schmidt 2005). An open and accepting environment often lets people become more introspective and, as such, helps them to come to an understanding regarding what they are doing to themselves. Do note that the aforementioned strategy is not as effective when it comes to alcohol abusers that have been drinking heavily for decades since it has become more of an ingrained habit for them rather than a coping mechanism for something that they are only recently experiencing.

Addressing Alcohol as a Long Term Ingrained Habit

Through the work of Cummings et al. (2006), it was seen that addressing alcohol abuse in the elderly is made more difficult if it has been going on for decades. Cummings et al. pointed to the fact that alcohol consumption within various regions such as the U.S., UK, and Russia has become such an ingrained aspect of the local culture that it is more surprising to find someone that does not drink alcohol than someone that does. One of the reasons behind this is the social aspect connected to alcohol consumption wherein people often drink alcoholic beverages when they are with their friends in a friendly setting (i.e. a bar). This enables a person to develop a predilection towards alcohol consumption resulting in them going for items that either has a higher alcoholic content (i.e. hard liquor such as tequila) or drinking alcohol in large volumes (i.e. consuming a six-pack of beer in a single day). While such behavior is tolerated and even considered acceptable to a certain extent within society, the fact remains that long term alcohol consumption in excessive amounts is not only bad for an individual’s health, it also becomes habit-forming.

The result is that the “withdrawal symptoms” associated with stopping one’s long term consumption of alcohol begin to resemble those associated with drug addicts or smokers. This can manifest in “shakes” (i.e. the individual in question sometimes involuntarily twitches), becoming feverish, an increase in irritability, some form of physical pain that does not have a specific origin but it felt in some areas of the body, lack of energy as well as issues related to adverse psychological behavior (i.e. violence, depression, etc.) (McInnes & Powell 1994). It is when considering these symptoms that weaning an elderly individual off of a long term habit becomes far more complex since, given their advanced ages, the aforementioned withdrawal symptoms can place a considerable amount of stress on their body to the point that it may cause strokes, cardiac dysrhythmia (i.e. the irregular beating of the heart), extreme depression leading to suicide and other such manifestations of long term alcohol withdrawal. On the other hand, Cummings et al. stated that simply allowing the habit to continue to avoid such symptoms from manifesting also causes issues in the form of liver and kidney damage as well as the fact that the various medications that help to sustain an elderly individual (i.e. keep them alive) do not react well when mixed with alcohol.

It is based on this that to address alcohol abuse as a long-term ingrained issue among the elderly, what is necessary is to focus on an equally long-term view regarding the treatment procedure. What is necessary is to simultaneously enroll the elderly individual in group sessions of other elderly alcohol abusers while slowly reducing their alcoholic consumption. This type of treatment can take up to 3 years depending on the level of addiction, however, slowly reducing their dependence on alcohol over several years, helps to mitigate the symptoms associated with alcohol withdrawal while at the same time helps the elderly individual adjust to living a life without alcohol (Onen et al. 2005). One way in which the individual in question can also be transitioned from their long term habit into something less damaging is to introduce them to social activities that would take away their need to consume alcohol. While physically taxing activities are not advisable, gaming in the form of Playstation and Xbox One consoles, as well as PC gaming, have proven to be effective pastimes that the elderly can take on that helps them find some form of alternative to their alcohol habit.

Addressing the Issue of the Elderly not admitting they have a Problem

Through the work of Millard & McAuley (2008), it was seen that the elderly are often in denial when it comes to admitting that they have a problem with their alcohol consumption. One of the reasons behind this is connected to their advanced ages wherein they assume that since they have already lived for so long; their consumption of alcohol should no longer matter. It is with this attitude in mind that a class means of resolving alcoholism is needed: an intervention. This can often come in the form of friends and family members telling the elderly individual in question that he/she has a problem with their consumption of alcohol. While the method is not 100% effective, it has proven to create some form of self-introspection in the individuals involved resulting in some of them lessening their consumption of alcohol to some degree (Trevisan 2014).

Discussion

When examining the success rates involving the methods that have been presented so far, it was noted that the average rate of alcohol intervention success was 40%. This is despite a combination of the different methods that have been mentioned or utilizing each method individually as a means of addressing the issue. While 40% may seem like a significant statistical figure it is important to note that it decreased based on the age of the individual (Geels et al. 2013). For individuals 55 to 60 years in age, the total statistical significance of their recovery period was noted at 40%, however, in each successive 10 year age range, there was a 5% statistical drop (on average) in the effectiveness of alcohol intervention. For example, for individuals that were 65 to 75 years old the statistical range for successful recovery was 32 to 35 percent (Geels et al. 2013). Individuals that were 80 to 85 were at 28 to 30 percent. This was indicative of a diminishing level of treatment effectiveness based on the age of the individual in question (Geels et al. 2013). One way of understanding this aspect of alcohol abuse treatment among the elderly is from the perspective of Geels et al. (2013) who explained that ingrained habits get harder to treat the longer a person has been exposed to them.

Aside from this, there are also issues related to psychological dependence and the fact that at advanced ages people seemingly stop caring about the long-term ramifications of their drinking habit since they have already aged considerably. It is based on this that the immediately apparent issue is the fact that the methods that have been utilized thus far to treat alcohol abuse among the elderly are simply not effective enough. McInnes & Powell (1994) explained that the effectiveness of medical treatments should be between 75 to 85 percent effective to be classified as being medically viable. This takes into consideration complications associated with the various types of treatment methods out there. While it is true that 100% effective medical treatments are available, they will not be discussed in this paper given the sheer amount of treatment methodologies that have been developed. Suffice it to say, based on the assertion of McInnes & Powell (1994), the current 40% intervention success rate is far from viable and is indicative that the current methods utilized are not effective enough to handle the issue. It is based on this that this section will delve into potential alternative methods that can be utilized to help address the issue of alcohol abuse among the elderly.

Chemical-based therapy

One of the methods that could be potentially utilized as an effective alternative was developed by Professor David Nutt who created a pill that selectively activates the GABA receptors in the brain to replicate the effects of alcohol. This particular method shows a considerable level of promise when it comes to addressing the issue of alcohol intervention since it can be combined with regular alcohol consumption to lessen the amount that people drink yet still give them the same psychological effect. Based on the work of Geels et al. (2013), it was noted that one of the reasons why alcohol intervention programs have a low success rate is due to the psychological dependence people have towards alcohol consumption and the “buzz” that it gives them. As such, by replicating the same effect through the pill and combining it will normal alcohol consumption, people would be able to drink less alcohol and yet get the same full effects.

It should also be noted that the effects of the pill are also fully reversible which would allow a person to enter into a state of minimal inebriation within a relatively short period. The potential ramifications of this when it comes to treatment methods are massive since the pills would help to lessen the amount of alcohol consumed without causing negative manifestations (i.e. withdrawal symptoms) that are normally associated with reducing alcohol consumption in individuals that have a considerable level of alcohol dependence due to their long term abuse of the substance. Doctors can start prescribing the pills to elderly individuals who have been noted as having an extensive history of alcohol abuse. By instructing them on the appropriate dosage levels and the method that they should utilize to properly use the pills, it is expected that this should result in a reduction in the amount of alcohol-related issues (i.e. necrosis of the liver) that are normally associated with alcohol abuse. Another factor that should be taken into consideration is the fact that utilizing these pills helps to address the issue of alcohol as a coping mechanism in the elderly since instead of drinking large amounts of alcohol; they can merely take large quantities of these pills which do not have the same adverse impact on the body.

Taxation

One potential avenue of approach that could help in reducing alcohol abuse among the elderly is to focus on increasing the tax associated with alcoholic beverages. The best method of resolving this issue is not to target the state of alcohol abuse directly since there is no way to prevent a person from drinking, instead, a more effective method would be to discourage the process of drinking large quantities of alcohol by making it prohibitively expensive. Taxes have always been a way in which governments have controlled the flow of imported goods into the country to give local producers a chance against cheap imports, an enacted policy that levels a specific type of tax on foods identified as being the cause of health problems among the elderly would raise their prices sufficiently to limit their consumption.

The advantages of this method are simple, the elderly have a limited amount of income which they can use to purchase particular products; by having an alcoholic product that leads to health issues cost more, the elderly would only be able to drink a specific amount of that particular type of beverage due to limitations in income. Other policy initiatives have focused on dealing with the problem of alcohol abuse among the elderly when it has already occurred; this policy initiative specifically targets the cause of alcohol abuse and ensures that it has a limited impact on how it is consumed. While there would be a definite backlash from various companies and consumer groups, the fact remains that should such a policy be put into practice, the rate of alcohol abuse among the elderly would decrease. It should also be noted that this could also create a substantial reduction in the number of people who develop a dependence on alcohol from an early age since the prohibitively high costs would discourage them from buying such a product. This can result in positive long-term societal implications since this would reduce the number of individuals that have alcohol dependency issues when they enter into old age.

Policy Initiatives to Lower the Rate of Advertising

When it comes to the consumption of any form of good or service, basic economics dictates that so long as there is a demand for a product there will always be someone willing to supply it, regardless of the apparent ethical implications associated with its sale. On the other hand, several policy initiatives that have been attempted such as preventing certain advertising campaigns from being aimed at alcohol consumers have resulted in a certain degree of resistance from various manufacturing companies. The inherent problem is that companies such as Jack Daniels, Johnny Walker, etc., do not perceive their products as actually causing harm to people. Such companies state that if drank in moderation their products would not result in the prevalence of alcohol issues among the elderly today and that it is up to the consumer to rein back their level of consumption.

Such arguments have been effective in preventing policies that would in effect limit the access of such companies to various markets by deflecting the responsibility of the proper consumption of alcohol to the people who buy it in the first place. As for what government agencies are directly relevant to the proposed policy, the health sector in government operations is the most likely set of agencies needed to ensure that any proposed policy in reducing adverse alcohol consumption is carried out. The only inherent problem with this though is the fact that many of the necessary methods of response needed to ensure compliance are outside of the control of the health sector which creates problems in ensuring that policies are effectively carried out. It is based on this that the most effective policy that could potentially be enacted to lower the rate of alcohol consumption among the elderly is to prevent targeted advertisements that specifically focus on elderly alcohol consumers. What must be understood is that the capacity for advertising to influence the demand of consumers is considerable and, as such, creating policies that prevent specific target advertising campaigns, helps to lower the rate by which alcoholic beverages are bought by this specific segment of the population.

Early Onset Psychological Intervention

One of the earlier issues that were mentioned in this paper was related to the elderly utilizing alcohol as a “crutch” so to speak to deal with a variety of different emotional situations such as their friends or family members dying due to old age. It is based on this that to resolve the problem and “nip it in the bud” so to speak, one method that could be utilized is to implement the early-onset psychological intervention. This method focuses on providing psychological care and assistance to elderly individuals after they have experienced the loss of a loved one. By doing so helps to considerably lessen the psychological burden that they have and should lessen their potential dependence on alcohol as a means of addressing their emotional issues.

Conclusion

Overall, when taking everything that has been stated into consideration, it can be seen that addressing the issue of alcohol abuse among the elderly needs to go through several steps. The first is identifying why the consumption is occurring (i.e. is it due to dependence, a coping mechanism, or simply a long-term habit) and afterward choosing the appropriate means of addressing the identified cause. So far, these aspects have been detailed in this paper, however, they are in no way the only means by which alcohol abuse can be identified and prevented. Instead, what has been presented is a general overview regarding the process and what can be expected should it be used in a professional setting.

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